What is User Prioritization?

Instart's User Prioritization solution allows customers to manage conditions when their origin infrastructure becomes overloaded with requests that can’t be offloaded to our service, such as dynamic HTML requests. There are certain times of year – such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – that are known to cause spikes in traffic for e-commerce sites. What isn’t known is just how large the spikes might be. Traffic surges can also occur at unexpected moments year-round for news & information sites due to breaking news that might cause a large increase in visits. The challenge with anticipated or unanticipated traffic spikes is the temporary nature of them; scaling out infrastructure for a temporary event is not cost effective.

As things are today, in overload situations – due to, for example, a spike in end user traffic – without a solution like this, all end users would receive a poor quality of experience, including slow responses and response timeouts.

User Prioritization allows you the ability to maintain a good quality of service for a subset of your users that are trying to access your website or web application, and provides the ability for you to deliver messages and other content to the users that won’t be allowed to access the service immediately.

During an overload event, you will be able to manually enable the User Prioritization feature and control the percentage of end users that are allowed to reach the origin infrastructure. The percentage or number of users that are not allowed to reach the origin infrastructure would be redirected to a static “cached” waiting room page that could contain a specific message that can be updated as required. This page might include a message letting your affected site visitors know that they have to wait, or it might provide a game to play while they are waiting, or perhaps provide codes for a discount on a future purchase. This page needs to be hosted outside of your infrastructure to ensure deliverability when your origin is under heavy load. We can use our existing cloud origin setup to host the files, and enable you to upload the static content via FTP/SFTP.

Determining which users are allowed in and which need to wait is different for each company. Our solution can be customized to fit each customer's unique business requirements. 

Below are just a few ways the feature can be configured:

  • a fixed percentage of your users can be allowed to access the site; the remainder will be queued until capacity is available
  • a cookie indicating that a particular user has items in their shopping cart can be referenced, which indicates that they are to be given priority over customers with empty shopping carts
  • customers that have been waiting the longest can be assigned a higher priority
  • customers identified in some way as premium customers can be assigned a higher priority, such as using a cookie or query string parameter

Example usage scenario

As an example let's assume the ACME Company has decided they want to use this feature. Instart's Professional Services group will work together with them to decide in specific detail how they want the feature to work with their site.

In this case let's say ACME has decided that, in the event of an overload situation, they would like to prioritize customers that have one or more items in their shopping cart over users that may just be browsing the site. We can use a cookie called num_items_in_cart to indicate that a shopper has items in their cart. If the value is 1 or higher, ACME would want those users to be prioritized over others when the feature is active.

Because their front page and category pages are cacheable, including the HTML, ACME only wants this feature to apply to other areas of their site, such as product pages, account pages, and pages in the checkout sequence.

ACME has also decided that they would like to show users that are not given access to the origin a "waiting room" message with a coupon code for a discount, in recognition of the inconvenience of not being able to complete their purchases yet. Using FTP or SFTP, ACME would upload this content to a web server we maintain within our service.

When ACME detects, using their own internal or external monitoring systems, that their origin infrastructure is nearing capacity and they have a high load that they feel might very well continue to increase, they would activate the feature.

At this point, our system would begin to prioritize users. The system would let dynamic requests from users with items in their shopping cart (based on the value of the cookie) through to the origin. Additionally, if there is still extra capacity, the system would let some portion of the non-prioritized users through to the origin for a window of time, such as 5 minutes. If these users don’t add anything in their shopping cart after that window of time is up, they may get sent to the waiting room the next time the system makes a prioritization decision.

Types of sites this feature will benefit the most

While the interest in this type of feature has primarily been from e-commerce customers, this type of solution would be useful for other types of sites that may have spikes in traffic and dynamic elements of their web experience, such as a SaaS application where responses need to come from the customer's origin infrastructure.

Types of sites this feature will benefit the least

This feature will likely provide less benefit for sites that already cache the vast majority of their content on our service, such as news & media customers, without user-specific content.